Completely unrelated to the proper review, I’d like to mention that I got Google Play Pass to see if it was worth the subscription, and so far, it is not. The first game I tried, Party Hard Go, kept glitching and popping up a developer’s debug menu warning of a bunch of unplayable sounds. This happened so frequently in the first level that I just deleted the game and moved on. Almost everything else I’ve tried has turned out to be the free shovelware prevalent on Google Play, but with ads disabled and all the microtransactions made free. And you know what? They still aren’t fun games.
It was in the midst of rifling through unsatisfying titles that I remembered Donut County, a game I’d meant to play, but that got pushed to the back of my mind in favor of larger games. First I searched to see if it was part of Play Pass, and it was not. But it was only €4.29, and that’s cheap enough that if I didn’t like it, at least I didn’t have to be angry about losing too much cash. I’ll drop spoilers right now and admit that I liked it quite a bit.
Donut County is a game told in chapters. The first is a prologue set in the present, while many chapters speed forward to the future and tell their parts as flashbacks revealing the slow destruction of the town. The final chapters return to the present, culminating in a final chapter with not one but two boss fights, and then there’s a prologue of sorts added to the closing credits.
So, what’s destroying the town? I don’t want to spoil too much, but it involves a racoon and an app that summons holes. You move the hole around to collect small objects, causing the hole to grow, and the larger it gets, the bigger objects you can collect. This escalates in every level to taking people, their cars, and their houses. (In many cases this includes the surrounding rock formations, warehouses, and even a skyscraper.)
It’s a fairly simple game mechanic that works whether you do it with a controller on the PS4, Steam, and GOG versions, or with a smartphone screen on Android or Apple. Even after the game introduces a new catapult feature, it’s very easy to use, though some of the puzzles employing it are trickier than the usual “make the hole bigger” solutions. Note, I didn’t say they were hard, just trickier. Most of the game has a very chill vibe to it, which is helped by the soundtrack being full of nice music to relax to.
But then there’s the boss fight. I went from lying back in bed to sitting tensely huddled over my phone, alternating furious thumb swipes to dodge the boss’ first attack, which could render the hole inoperable for one round. This by itself wouldn’t be so bad, except after each round where the hole was filled, the boss would attack the protagonist and do damage. Fail three rounds, and it’s back to the start of the fight. Add to this that in the second and third phase, the boss drops barriers to try and trap the hole, and it gets very tense. Like white knuckle, swearing profusely tense.
Now imagine my dismay when, right after dispensing the boss after six failed attempts, another boss arrived, this time armed with a bazooka. But it turned out the second boss was kind of a gimme, maybe as a mea culpa for cranking up the tension so cruelly. In any case, the final boss fight sees the town freed of the menace and returning to their now vacant lots to rebuild.
All told, the whole game took me around three hours to beat, which I did in one session. Sure, I could have taken it in bite-sized portions, but once I got into the game and its story, I wanted to see how it ended. Ultimately, it’s a cute tale about owning one’s mistakes, and it ends in a satisfying way. I’m not sure I’d play it again, but I don’t need to in order to feel like I got my money’s worth out of it.
I’ll give Donut County 5 stars and recommend it to anyone looking for a cute, simple game to pass an evening with. Whether you play it on PC or a smartphone, it’s wonderfully intuitive and easy to grasp, though certain stages will involve a bit of experimentation to reach the solution. (I thought the first “bunny love” level was quite clever once I sorted out what I was doing wrong.)
So, take this mostly spoiler review to heart and consider picking up Donut County in whichever flavor you prefer. If you get it on mobile, maybe we can someday convince more developers to just sell us a game as nice as this, instead of more ad-infested, gacha-bloated, microtransaction-loaded shovelware. Well, maybe not, but I can dream, right?
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